Choosing the Right Career Path
To Becoming an Athletic Director
Writing Assignment #3
Becoming an athletic director can be a very time consuming process and may take some very hard work. There seems to be four key career paths that most athletic directors follow on their way to the top. According to The Comprehensive Guide to Careers in Sports these four tracks are: the athlete track, the coach track, the business leader track and the entry-level administration track. (Wong, 292-293). Each different track has its own set of advantages. All of the tracks have different beginnings but most end up in the same sort of ladder climbing development on their way to their pinnacle of jobs, becoming an athletic director. In this paper each track will be displayed through examples which may help you decide which may be the best potential route for you to take.
The athlete track can be very helpful to those individuals who want to focus the latter part of their careers on becoming an athletic director. The studied conducted in The Comprehensive Guide to Careers in Sports focused on 21 current athletic directors in NCAA Division I athletics in April of 2008. Of the 21 interviewed athletic directors, 13 of them had played sports at the collegiate level, and two had gone on to play professionally (Wong, 292). The athlete path seems to provide the potential candidate with experience in the day-to-day operations of how the athletic program is run. With the person being an integral part of the program, the athlete, they are given the up close and personal view of how the athletic department conducts business. Being so close to a program allows the person to see the struggles of the program and how they are managed which gives them experience that those who did not play sports lack. In addition to experience with how a program is run, athletes will typically have better connections when looking for a job in an athletic department later on in their careers. These points can be proven by the recent hiring of Kirby Hocutt as the Texas Tech University athletic director. Hocutt played college football at Kansas State and worked in the athletic department at the University of Oklahoma. Both of these experiences gave Hocutt an advantage in knowing the Big 12 conference, which is the conference Tecas Tech competes in and may have factored into him being hired for the position (AP, 1).
Gina Rosser is the Director of Business Operations for Duke University Athletic department, while she isn't an athletic director, she does work closely with them. Ms. Rosser was a student-athlete at High Pointe and was able to work in many departments while in school, such as: sports information, marketing and development. After graduation she worked as a graduate assistant in the ticket office and then was hired as an assistant business manager. She then moved onto Athletic Business Manager until eventually becoming the Director of Business Operations (Rosser, 299). While Ms. Rosser did have an athlete background, she didn't try to pursue a professional athletics career. Instead she used her connections to further her advancement in the athletic department. In the study mentioned earlier, it is important to note that seven of the 13 athletic directors who play collegiate sports, took coaching jobs immediately following the playing careers (Wong, 292). This number represents that not all athletes go onto coaching careers and professional athletic careers, so looking for other careers such as those in the athletic department can be a viable option.
The coaching track seems to be a very popular route throughout the entire athletic department, not just for the director positions. A good example of a coaching job being used as a segue to joining the athletic department is Mrs. Charlene Jackson of South Carolina State University. Mrs. Jackson was a basketball, volleyball and tennis coach at the University before moving her way into the department. After winning coach of the year awards and coaching for a multitude of years, Mrs. Jackson was named senior women's administrator and associate athletic director. She handled the everyday aspects of the women's programs at the university. Following seven years of service in this position, she was hired to be the Director of Athletics. She has held this position since she was placed as an interim athletic director in 2003 (SCSU, 1).
The University of Kansas has a previous coach as the school's athletic director currently. Dr. Sheahon Zenger began coaching football a few months before receiving his bachelor's degree. He began coaching at Manhattan High School, then at Drake University and then at Kansas State University. From his coaching profession he moved on to being an editor for American Football Quarterly, a magazine for coaches. After receiving his doctorate degree he became a recruiting coordinate at the University of South Florida and then at the University of Wyoming. Before arriving at KU, Zenger had been given the job of athletic director at Illinois State University (KU.edu, 1-2). Both of these athletic directors were able to gain valuable experience with being put in managerial (coaching) type roles early on in the careers. In Zenger's case, his familiarity with the Big 12 Conference helped him gain an edge in the competition for the KU athletic director position. Both future athletic directors were given an inside look at the operations of the athletic department and were given a ton of chances for promotion. Sometimes, getting off on the right foot through the coaching route isn't always the most economically sound decision. Damon Dukakis of ISP Sports at the University of California-Berkeley, first took a coaching job that paid nothing at a small college near his alma mater. Additionally, he helped in the sports information department for free. After being a volunteer coach for two years, Dukakis heard of an opening as a high school athletic director and applied and got the job. Before graduating from college, he had worked as an assistant athletic director at a local high school, this experience likely helped him gain an advantage in the application process. Dukakis then moved on to become Marketing Director for Athletics at Sacramento State and then moved to Portland State as an Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs and is now, it would seem, working his way towards becoming an Athletic Director (Dukakis, 318). While he wasn't being paid for his coaching efforts, Dukakis was gaining valuable experience and building a great resume.
Eric Nichols, the Director of Marketing at the University of South Carolina athletic department, used coaching to put his foot in the door of athletic administration. Nichols started off as a student assistant for women's volleyball, and then earned a graduate assistantship. After graduating, Nichols received a job at Nike but later returned to the college scene as a facilities manager. He was then promoted to Game and Event Manager (Nichols, 183). While he didn't continue coaching for very long, he was still able to put his name out there and meet with contacts and individuals who could help further his career. Not all athletic directors are involved with athletics right after graduating; in fact, some have little to no experience with athletics until being hired.
The business leader track can be used by individuals who did not go with an athletic route to their professions following graduation. A perfect example of this type of situation is the athletic director for the University of Michigan. David Brandon, hired as UM's A.D. in 2010, was known more for being a political heavyweight than he was for his sports knowledge. Brandon had been the chairman and CEO of Domino's Pizza, Inc. since 1999. Before that he served as the president and CEO of Valassis Communications Inc. Brandon had helped the company grow by 1200 employees in his over 20 years of service. Brandon was also named to the UM Board of Regents and served an eight year term. Despite having little to do with the University's athletic program since graduating, Brandon earned the job by making large donations to the University, backing certain athletic development plans and having marketing and sales experience from his time served as CEO for two different companies (Ann Arbor, 1).
Another good example of someone who took a business route to becoming A.D. is Mr. Pat Kilkenny of the University of Oregon. Mr. Kilkenny was the chairman and CEO of an insurance agency for many years after graduating from the University of Oregon in the 1970s. After selling his company in 2006, Kilkenny was looking for a way to get involved more involved with his alma mater and it just so happened the A.D. position had just opened up (Oregon, 1). Most of the time, as represented by these two men, a business leader will have a strong connection with a certain school, either by being a graduate or having family ties; this gives them a certain edge in the competition for the athletic director position. Both of these men returned to their alma maters after successful business careers because they felt their experience outside the world of athletics could help out each of their respective alma mater's programs. While this may seem to be an unconventional route to take, it seems have worked out nicely for these gentlemen.
Another example of a career path that seems to lack an involvement with sports, but the person ends up working for the athletic department can be found with Ms. Martina Ballen. She is currently the Senior Associate Athletic Director of Athletics for Business and Finanace and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ms. Ballen worked for the Federal U.S. District Courts as a deputy clerk after receiving her bachelor's degree. After earning her MBA she worked as a credit analyst. After a year doing this she was sent to Chapel Hill to manage an office branch. Later one she was hired by the UNC athletic departments. Ms. Ballen had little to no athletics background, but still found herself as a very unique Associate Athletic Director (Ballen, 317).
A more traditional way to becoming an athletic director is through a route that begins with an entry level administration job, most of the times this starts out as an internship. Becoming an intern during or immediately following college is a good way for students to get their foot in the door and build connections with people who may help in getting them hired later on in their careers. The University of Florida's athletic director, Jeremy Foley, has been recently regarded as one of the best athletic directors in the country. It was no easy job to get to this position for Foley though. In 1976, Foley got his first job in the Florida athletic department, as a ticket office intern (Newell, 1). Foley worked his way through the ticket office, becoming ticket manager and then Director of Ticket and Game Operations by 1980. Foley then served as assistant athletic director and then Associate Athletic Director for Business Affair. Foley was named interim Athletic Director for five months in 1986, but the position was eventually filled and he became a Senior Associate Athletic Director for five years. After those five years he was given the opportunity to become the Athletic Director at UF and has been ever since (Gatorzone, 1). In his 19 years of employment as A.D. he has grown Florida's athletic program into one of the best in the country and one can assume that working from the ground floor all the way to the top has something to do with the dedication and desire he has shown to grow the program.
Another example of an internship beginning a path towards becoming an athletic director is the case of Ms. Kim Record, the current athletic director at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Ms. Record stayed on as an intern at the University of Virginia shortly after graduation and fell in love with it. After 14 years of working her way up through the hierarchy, she had progressed from intern to associate athletic director. From there she moved to Florida State University to become the second in command, the marketing and media rights director, among other duties. After 13 years working at FSU she was offered the position at UNC-Greensboro and happily accepting. After working so hard and so long she had finally reached her goal saying, "I always thought I'd be an athletic director" (Sander, A17).
Leland Barrow, the Assistant Sports Communications Director at the University of Georgia Athletics program, provides another example. Mr. Barrow received an internship offer upon earning his master's degree (Barrow, 316). While Mr. Barrow's job isn't an athletic director, it still shows that internships can be a great learning experience and can even help you meet potential future employers. Mr. Barrow worked his way up after learning all about his future job responsibilities during his time as an intern. Many students choose to take the opportunity of an internship because of the networking possibilities and in many cases, there is a job usually waiting for them at the end of the internship There is also a possibility that internships can be volunteer based, such as volunteering to be an assistant athletic director at a smaller school. If a person does this it shows their passion for the career and helps build their resume for future careers (Hoch, 1).
As proven by the many examples in this paper, becoming an athletic director doesn't happen overnight. While it takes time, the four career paths are still the most useful and the most often used. Being an athlete allows those future A.D.s to see the inner workings of an athletic department. Coaching can provide a good entry into the sports world, whether volunteer or being an assistant, it will put your name out there and help in making valuable connections. While the business career path isn't the most sensible path to get into the athletic department world, it can still work as long as you are dedicated. By far the most logical and most widely used career path is to start off in an internship. No matter which career path is chosen, the career path will take time and in almost every case will lead to becoming assistant and associated athletic directors before becoming the head guy. This isn't a bad thing by any means because it will allow for the A.D. to gain more experience and knowledge so he is better at his job.
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